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Ray Crooke , The Islanders & Girl at Table

The Islanders by Ray Crooke

The Artist

Ray Crook is best known for his idyllic scenes from the South Pacific Islands, particularly Fiji and Tahiti. Ashley Wilson, writing for the Australian on 7th December 2015, noted how much Crooke loved landscapes and the people of the tropics, creating pictures full of harmony, light and colour. A close friend and art dealer, Philip Bacon, said that Crooke hated being compared to Gauguin but because of the subject matter , this became quite legitimate. It is what Ray Crooke is best known for.

Raymond Austin Crooke was born in Auburn, Melbourne on July 12th July 1922, to Gordon and Euphemia Crooke. According to Greg Da Silva writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Gordon was an accountant and Euphemia had trained as a nurse.  Ray spent much of his youth with his father, camping, hiking and fishing and getting to explore the natural world. He attended Brighton Beach State School and later Hampton High and Melbourne High Schools where he finished his schooling aged 15. From there, Ray worked in a Melbourne advertising agency whilst studied part time at the Swinburne Technical College.

In 1940, Crooke enlisted with the army and served in Western Australia, Borneo and Northern Queensland. This gave Crooke his first taste of life in the tropics, which he returned to as a theme for his art studies at Swinburne after the war. In fact, Crooke was to return to Thursday Island and other South Pacific Islands and developed a long lasting fascination with the islands.  Crooke returned to Melbourne where he continued his connection with Swinburne Technical College by lecturing on art  from 1955 along with Ferntree Gully Junior School and as a designer for screen-printing fabrics. However, Ray's big breakthrough came in 1959 when he exhibited a one-man show at the Australian Galleries in Melbourne. Thereafter, Crooke exhibited across Australia with major exhibitions in Perth, Brisbane , Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle and Canberra.  In 1963, Crooke exhibited three works at the Australian Painting Today exhibition in at the Tate Gallery, London, thus giving his work international recognition. This was further enhanced with the acquisition of his work, 'the offering'  by the Vatican Museums in 1971. He also won the Archibald Prize with a portrait of his neighbour, George Johnston in 1969. According to Alan and Susan McCulloch, Crooke also served as an official war artist in Vietnam from 1966; perhaps the antithesis of his best known works such as the Islanders. At roughly the same time as the Islanders was being painted, Crooke was commissioned to paint a a series of murals for Australia House in London. Crooke returned and settled in northern Queensland where he continued to paint often sending works south to commercial galleries. In 1993, Ray Crooke was made a member of the Order of Australia for his services to the visual arts. Ray Crooke died at the age of 93 December 2015.

The Islanders by Ray Crooke

The Work of Art

Ashleigh Wilson, when writing for The Australian noted that in 2007, ahead of an opening to an exhibition in Brisbane, Crooke reflected on the reasons why returned so often to the relative calm of Fiji. "You can persuade yourself you're making a moral statement for the best of reasons, and I suppose you're indulging yourself... But the moment I get on that Pacific plane, something comes over me. It wipes out the politics of Australia and all that sort of stuff."  Is it escapism?  Was Crooke immersing himself in another world, the opposite of the bustle of modern Australia? The works speak of a tranquility that is so reminiscent of Gauguin. Note the fall of light in this scene. The light is from behind the the artist which puts details such as the figures in the shade and making their features darker. Also note the central figure in the group. Crooke often used solid blocks of colour which contrasts to the darker areas of the painting and draws the viewer in.

Other Works of Art

The University of Canberra's art collection is privileged to have a number of works by Ray Crooke, three of which are of a similar theme namely domestic scenes in a tropical island setting. However, the work 'Western Horizon' is particularly interesting. Ray has captured in his scenery, the edge of the desert and the piercing light blue skies which one could expect mid morning to noon. This contrasts with his Islander series which are darker and set later in the day.

Ray Crooke, Western Horizons Girl at Table by Ray Crooke